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Intel: Privacy and Monopoly

March 12, 1999

Intel Corporation’s new Pentium III microprocessor was recently released, and computers containing the new chip are now available in stores. Those who welcome the arrival of the Pentium III cite its ability to improve the performance of multimedia applications such as speech recognition and streaming audio and video. Critics, however, raise concerns over the chip’s most controversial feature: a Processor Serial Number, or P.S.N., which is embedded in the Pentium III. The computer version of a social security number, the P.S.N. makes it possible to track individual machines while they are online. Intel claims that a security feature allows the user the option of turning off the P.S.N.

However, Germany’s computer magazine, C’T, reported that their technical experts were able to bypass the chip’s security mechanism and gain access to the P.S.N. This means that technically savvy individuals and companies could secretly obtain the P.S.N. numbers of Internet users. Consumer and privacy groups have asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the privacy issues of the Pentium III.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the F.T.C. reached a settlement with Intel in an antitrust suit against the corporation. The suit alleged that Intel, which controls 80% of the world semiconductor market, refused to share information on their chips with computer manufacturers until they handed over sensitive trade secrets. Without this chip information, manufacturers cannot design the next generation of Pentium III compatible components.


  • Jason Catlett, President of Junkbusters, one of the organizations that has led the campaign against the Intel Pentium III.
  • Russ Smith, head of, the Consumer Information Organization. A resource for consumers, particularly web users, the group monitors direct marketers and campaigns for consumer privacy.
  • Jamie Love, Director, Consumer Project on Technology. The organization addresses antitrust enforcement and policy.
  • Tara Lemmey, Executive Director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

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